Workers Compensation Newsletters

Avoiding the Employment Relationship

In order to avoid the effects of the workers' compensation system, some employers will deliberately categorize a person as an individual contractor instead of an employee. Some individuals may even categorize themselves as individual contractors, preferring to reject the compensation system. Whether this categorization is successful, however, turns not just on the name given to the employment relationship. Rather, each relationship is examined on its own facts and will be decided based on the conduct exhibited between the parties as well as the work contract entered into between them.

Confidentiality of Records

The Social Security Administration, like other federal agencies, is subject to the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974. The Act prohibits the dissemination of information about an individual that is maintained by the agency including that regarding his education, finances, and medical, employment, and criminal history. An individual's application for benefits, submission of medical records, consultative examination reports, and income and resource information would all seem to be covered by the Act. With exceptions, the SSA can only disclose an individual's personal information if it receives a written request by, or with the written consent of, the individual to whom the information pertains.

Federal Employers' Liability Act

The Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) is not a workers' compensation statute. Rather, it is an alternative avenue by which railroad workers who are injured on the job may be compensated. The FELA allows an injured railroad worker to pursue a negligence action against his employer for lost wages, medical costs, pain and suffering, and permanent and partial disability. Should the injury result in the railroad worker's death, the FELA also authorizes an action by the worker's surviving dependents. The damages recoverable by a dependent include those for pain and suffering, funeral expenses, and that part of the worker's earnings that were actually used to support the dependent. Notably, though, the employee's contributory negligence will diminish any recovery.

Res Judicata and Reopening of Social Security Decisions

The hallmark of res judicata is finality. Essentially, once a court has entered a final judgment conclusively establishing the rights of the parties on the merits of the dispute, such decision is final and will bar subsequent actions based on the same claim or cause of action. This rule of civil procedure has been adapted and applied to administrative actions, including social security decisions.

Second Injury Funds

Oftentimes, an employee may be suffering from an injury or disability and then be subsequently injured while working for the employer. Generally, the states have addressed this issue by creating a second injury fund. For the most part, the employer is only responsible for the workers' compensation benefits attributable to the injury incurred while the employee was working for the employer. The second injury fund would pick up where the employer left off by paying the difference between what the employer pays and what the employee is entitled for the total effect of all of his injuries.